THE REACTION TO the report to US President Joe Biden about the US intelligence community’s views of the origins of Covid-19 is as predictable as the report was inconclusive.
- Zeng Yixin, deputy director of the National Health Commission, repeated Beijing’s long-held line that China opposes turning tracing the origins of the virus into a political issue and its equally long-standing accusation that Washington is engaging in blame-shifting.
- Vice Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu had previously said in the same vein that the report lacked a scientific base and credibility and had been concocted for political purposes.
- A statement from the embassy in Washington said the report was produced to scapegoat China.
The sanitized unclassified version of the report that was made public is similarly unilluminating. The various arms of the US ‘intelligence community’ are divided on whether the virus took hold among humans due to exposure to infected wild animals or as a result of a lab-related accident. None have high confidence in the positions they take.
However, the report categorically states that the virus was not created as a biological weapon. It also said that Chinese officials had no foreknowledge of the outbreak.
The US intelligence agencies said more information was needed to reach a conclusion with higher confidence and accused China of holding back information and blaming other countries for the outbreak.
Meanwhile, reports of attempts by the World Health Organisation to follow up on its carefully managed research visit to China earlier this year with a second investigative leam have faded from state media.
Last week, eleven members of the WHO’s initial research team said it would soon be biologically impossible to get reliable information about animals and people who might have been exposed to the virus in 2019 when reports of the novel coronavirus first emerged.
In an article in the journal Nature, they write:
Crucially, the window is rapidly closing on the biological feasibility of conducting the critical trace-back of people and animals inside and outside China. SARS-CoV-2 antibodies wane, so collecting further samples and testing people who might have been exposed before December 2019 will yield diminishing returns. Chinese wildlife farms employ millions of people (14 million, according to a 2016 census11) and supplied live mammals to cities across China, including Wuhan3. In response to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, many of these farms are now closed and the animals have been culled, making any evidence of early coronavirus spillover increasingly difficult to find.